Our Views: Roper deal really stinks

A proposed deal to move East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney Mary Roper into a newly created position might seem like a good bargain for the Metro Council and Roper, but taxpayers should be furious.

Roper’s been under attack by some council members for months amid allegations that she improperly shared proprietary information about city-parish software with her husband. Roper has maintained her innocence, claiming that she’s been targeted for political reasons; investigators have said that she is not a target of an investigation into abuse of city software by another city-parish employee. Earlier this month, Roper filed, then rescinded, a public records request for the emails, texts and social media correspondences of five council members — a move that suggested she might be seeking compromising information about them.

Even before the software allegations surfaced, Roper had strained relationships with some council members. The plot thickened Monday when news broke that Roper could be sanctioned in federal court because her office submitted a response on behalf of the city-parish to a lawsuit five months late.

Under an arrangement that’s recently been in the works, Roper is supposed to assume a newly created position of legal counsel for the city-parish’s Employee Retirement System. Presumably, moving Roper out of the parish attorney’s position would allow officials to avoid a hearing about Roper’s job performance.

That might be a convenient way to sweep a political controversy under the rug, but this is a matter of public interest, not a private family feud. In planning Roper’s exit this way, officials are treating taxpayers as children, forcing constituents to eavesdrop on the stair landing as the grown-ups bicker behind closed doors.

But in reality, it’s the public officials who are acting like youngsters here, abrogating their duty to basic standards of government transparency. The creation of a new position for which, apparently, only Roper was considered is outrageous.

If Roper’s ethics and competence are under question, she shouldn’t be moved into another job dispensing important legal advice regarding the city-parish retirement system. And if she’s been wrongly accused because of political persecution, that needs to be aired in a public hearing, too. The public also has a right to know if she’s being sidelined into a rewarding second career in order to buy her silence.

In the absence of a thorough, open debate about Roper’s performance as city-parish attorney, the public will be left to speculate about the circumstances surrounding the push to remove her from her position.

The post of parish attorney should be an independent one. Whoever occupies that position should be able to give advice shaped by best legal practices, not political influence. Taxpayers can’t have confidence in the independence of the parish attorney if Roper is nudged out in a backroom deal.